Campaigners deplore impact of national DNA database on black communities

By staff writers
July 17, 2008

Black community and church leaders are backing a symposium next week at the House of Commons on the over-representation of African Caribbean people on the national criminal DNA database.

The event is scheduled for Monday 21 July at 7pm in Committee Room 5 and is open to the general public, say organisers.

The symposium meeting will examine why 57% of all DNA taken in London from people not known to have committed a crime has been from black people.

Critics of the way the scheme is working fear that the National DNA Criminal Database risks criminalising communities by stealth.

The meeting is being hosted by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, who has mounted a parliamentary challenge to the way DNA is collected.

It is organised by the campaign group Black Mental Health UK, in association with Gene Watch, 100 Black Men and Christians Together in Brent.

BMH says government figures show that 77% of young black men are on the database, compared with 9% of Asians and just 6% of the white population.

Yet findings from the Home Office offending report indicate that black people are actually statistically less likely to offend than their white counterparts.

With over half a million names on the database either false, misspelt or incorrect, campaigners say there are also concerns about the security of the records - especially given recent high profile data losses.

The UK has the largest National DNA Database in the world, with 4.5 million profiles set to be held by government by 2010. There are presently 500,000 people on the database who have no current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand.

Sarha Teather comments: "If someone is black, their details are three times more likely to be stored on the database than if they are white. In a world where much crime goes undetected, a small skewing of police behaviour leads to a large discrepancy in outcomes for different ethnic and racial groups... It is time we broke the cycle."

"If the original intention was to keep the DNA of criminals who have been convicted of a crime, what is purpose behind compiling such a large database?" asks Pastor Ade Omooba of the hroup Coherent and Cohesive Voice. "This in no way helps with community cohesion."

"All too often people find themselves on the database after a simple caution with no idea how to get off it," claims the Rev Paul Grey from the New Testament Church of God in Nuneaton.

"The time has come to ensure that the surveillance measures introduced by the Government to protect society from crime do not instead begin to oppress society," declares Matilda MacAttram, director Black Mental Health UK.

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